Get your document right from the start! On this page, we'll explore different aspects of setting up a digital document, like sorting out your margins, page orientation and numbering, and any headers and footers. We'll also look at some tips when you're starting on a document, like file naming and saving and using keyboard shortcuts and view options.
Before you get started with any new document, it's worth checking that the pages and sizing are set up as you need them. While it is possible to change any of these settings after you've added content, making changes can effect the layout of your text. Especially if you need to change page size, margin sizes or orientation, it's worth checking these before you get started.
We'll start this guide with some tips that help with the process of setting up and viewing your document, and ensure your work is saved and backed up.
You may wish to spend a little time organising and checking that important documents are suitably named and backed up, to reduce the risk of losing or misplacing any documents.
One useful idea can be to come up with your own naming structure to help you easily identify files and their content. Where possible, try not to use very similar names and instead use descriptive names which help to identify what is in the document. You may wish to include a date, version number or anything else that helps to to identify a specific file. Once you've decided what information to include in a file name, you could put this information in the same standardised order for each file. This may make it easier to sort and find multiple files when they are stored in a folder together.
When using Microsoft Word, use the option at File > Save regularly while you are working on a document. You can also use File > Save As/Save a copy to save an additional, separate copy of a file as a backup. Storing Word files on a cloud storage service is also a safe way of ensuring all files are backed up and accessible from any device. University accounts don't have access to Microsoft's OneDrive storage, as we instead use Google Drive. For computers, you can install the Google Drive for Desktop tool to be able to save and sync your Word files directly in Google Drive. You can alternatively upload any Word files on the Google Drive website.
When you use Google Docs, these files are automatically saved in Google Drive and are accessible from any device. You can use the 'Move' icon (folder with an right pointing arrow) next to the document name to move this file into a suitable folder within your Google Drive.
Many of the advanced page setup options that allow full control are sometimes slightly hidden in advanced menus. Here's how to find those options when customising your document.
If you prefer to work in 'dark mode' to help reduce glare and the amount of white on the screen, it is possible to turn this on in Microsoft Word.
For Windows, in Microsoft Word go to File > Account. In the Office Theme, change this drop-down to 'Black', or another colour of your choice. This may very in some older versions of Word.
On a Mac, you will first need to enable dark mode in the operating system itself. To do this, go to the main Mac settings via Settings > General > Appearance > Dark. Then in Microsoft Word, from the top menu bar, go to Word > Preferences > General > Personalise, where you can set the page colour to be either white or black while in dark mode.
Both tools have a couple of viewing options that can make navigating and working with longer documents a little easier.
Margins are simply the space between the edges of your text and the edge of the page. You can separately customise the top, bottom, left and right margins to be a different measurement, depending on what best suits for you or to fit with certain measurements you may have been given.
If you're changing the size of your margins, give yourself plenty of space all around. This includes the top and bottom where you may also be entering text in the Header and Footer. Try to set your margins to at least 1.5cm so that nothing gets cut off, especially if you are printing. It's possible to then save this page setup as a template, so you can use it again for other documents.
Writing an essay, dissertation or thesis? Check with your department or supervisor, to see if they have guidelines on what your margins sizes need to be.
From the 'Page Setup' menu on either tool, you can enter a specific measurement. The measurements for each margin may show in either centimetres or inches, but the unit of measurement can be changed in the options menu.
If you highlight a particular part in your document or use section breaks, you can then use the Apply to option to apply the formatting to just that selected area of the text instead. This can also be useful when you are trying to set certain pages as landscape orientation.
If you're creating a piece of writing that will be printed double-sided and bound together, you may need the 'inside' margin to be slightly larger to make space for any binding and to alternate from left-to-right on every other page. This is known as Mirrored Margins. By alternating on each page, it will make sure that the wider margin is always on the inside when there is text on both sides of the page.
You can do this in Microsoft Word, where you can set it it up to 'Mirror Margins'.
Headers and Footers are areas within the top and bottom margins where you can add additional information about the document, such as the title of the document or a page number. Anything you write in the header or footer on one page will appear automatically on every other page in that document or section.
So if we were to write 'My important document about cheese' into the header of the first page, that title would automatically appear on the top header of every other page in the document without needing to re-type it. You can enter any required information here and format them using the normal text-formatting tools. They can also be used for adding automatic page numbers, which will increase by 1 on each page.
To edit a header or footer, first open the editing box before you can make any changes. While hovering your mouse over the blank space in your top or bottom margin (in either MS Word or Google Docs), double-click to open the header/footer editor.
Adding automatic page number into your header or footer will save you needing to manually type a page number for each page. As an extra bonus, it will also automatically update and save you from needing to manually tweak them if you decide to add extra pages or move content around.
You can prevent any text or page numbers in your header or footer appearing on the first page. This can come in handy when you need to create a front cover page that won't need any text or page numbers in the header or footer.
Template documents are really useful if you create multiple files that have the same customised text formatting and page setup. In this process, you will only need to configure the page setup, styles and formatting only once. After that, you can then re-use this every time you need to create a new file and it will save yourself needing to re-do the same setup. It's a really helpful method when you are writing chapters in separate documents that will eventually be combined into one.
You can alter both the orientation and size of the pages you are working on. By default, a document is usually set to size A4, portrait. The two orientations you can choose are either Portrait (shorter across the top, longer down the sides) or Landscape (longer across the top, shorter down the sides).
If you are intending to print or work on a different page size or orientation, it's a good idea to set this up in the page setup options before you get started. It may help you to more easily layout your content and choose the most appropriate sizing.
Need to change orientation or sizing for a certain section? You'll first need to use section breaks, see our Page Structure guide for details on how to insert those first.
By default, the standard page size for any new document you create is usually A4. If you are planning to print or create a document that's a different size, it's a very good idea to adjust the page size in the document setup. That way, everything added to the document will then be in proportion. You can select from standard page sizes (A2, A3, A5 etc) and in Word you also can enter your own custom dimensions.
Once you've gone over the material on this page, try the following exercises to apply your knowledge: